powered by FreeFind

Apple iTunes


Olive Kitteridge gives HBO another Emmy-worthy gem


Her misery sort of loves his company. Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins head the cast of Olive Kitteridge. HBO photo

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Likewise adapted from an acclaimed novel, Olive Kitteridge does what The Leftovers didn’t. It contains itself within a four-hour miniseries -- and is better for it.

Both HBO presentations originate from small eastern towns. But the strange things happening in Crosby, Maine are grounded in groaning everyday life. No one abruptly evaporates into the hereafter or has visions of demons dancing in their heads.

Olive Kitteridge, premiering Sunday, Nov. 2nd at 8 p.m. (central) and continuing at the same time Monday, also is notable for being largely faithful to the Puliizer Prize-winning Elizabeth Strout book. The Leftovers, which is getting a string-along second season, in contrast has veered wildly from the printed words of Tom Perrotta. For starters, the author’s mild-mannered mayor, Kevin Garvey, became a haunted, high-strung, violence-prone police chief. And so on under the command of principal executive producer Damon Lindeloff of Lost fame -- and infamy.

Both novels end on affirming notes. HBO knows where to stop with Olive Kitteridge while The Leftovers very much risks over-serving itself with multiple detours en route to who knows what after who knows how many seasons.

Frances McDormand brilliantly plays the title role. She’s a former school teacher with a thin, nurturing streak. But Olive is mostly embittered, sour and almost impossible to please. “Oh for God’s sake, Henry, you can make a woman sick,” she retorts when her husband asks, “You’re not gonna leave me, right?”

Amiable Henry Kitteridge (a terrific supporting performance by Richard Jenkins) is the pilot light of Olive Kitteridge. Initially the owner of a neighborhood pharmacy, he spreads kindness and compassion without being a complete pushover or buffoon. Enduring wife “Ollie’s” arsenal of sideswipes and head-on insults, Henry always errs on the bright side. He’s an up-with-people person married to a blunt-spoken downer.

The miniseries basically spans 25 years, beginning with Olive preparing to end it all before backtracking a quarter-century to the time Henry gave her a heart-shaped box of candy -- which she ignored. Life is not a box of chocolates, although Olive does love her donuts and donut holes.

The Kitteridges have a son named Christopher (played by Devin Druid as a kid and John Gallagher, Jr. as a young man). He feels tormented as an adolescent and lashes out as an adult despite Olive’s protestations that “You had a normal, happy childhood, just for the record.”

The novel has numerous supporting characters, most of them filtered through the prism of Olive Kitteridge whether they were students or acquaintances of hers. “Don’t be scared of your hunger,” she had instructed her math students.

One of her former students, Kevin Coulson (Cory Michael Smith), has had a highly dysfunctional childhood before returning to Crosby as a psychiatrist who can’t seem to fix himself. Olive tries to intercede, showing her softer side with those she once tried to mold as an unyielding classroom authoritarian. Beyond that, she has her own traumatic back story, with outward stoicism both her armor and her shield.

Not all of the book’s characters can be accommodated in the miniseries, but the pivotal ones remain.

In Sunday night’s first chapter, viewers are introduced to the only two people who tempted both Olive and Henry to flee their coops.

Henry befriends and mentors young, bespectacled, plain-faced Denise Thibodeau (memorably played by Zoe Kazan), who becomes his pharmacy assistant after the previous old curmudgeon drops dead. She’s wide-eyed and gentle of heart, qualities that greatly appeal to Henry. “I’m gonna take care of you, Denise,” he says warmly and not entirely platonically after tragedy strikes.

Meanwhile, Olive is attracted to hard-drinking, chain-smoking fellow teacher Jim O’Casey (Peter Mullan). He’s “deeper” than Henry and considerably darker, too.

Bill Murray co-stars as Jack Kennison, a politically conservative recent widower who’s mostly confined to Monday night’s closing half-hour. Murray jogs through the role without seeming to break a sweat. He’s just fine at this, but nothing more.

A constant throughout Olive Kitteridge is Angela O’Meara (Martha Wainwright), a generation-spanning pianist/vocalist at the town’s most popular bar/restaurant. The book tells her back story. The miniseries doesn’t, but Angela nonetheless leaves a lasting impression with her schmaltzy vocals and devotion to them.

McDormand is forever enshrined as dogged deputy Marge Gunderson in Fargo. Her portrayal of Olive Kitteridge is even more accomplished, in turns aggravating and affecting while always seeming just right. Jenkins is likewise superb as the man who truly loves her -- and not purely out of duty. What does he see in her? What does she see in him? In both cases it’s more than meets the eye. Family dynamics are what they are, whether or not Olive truly deserves a husband who resolutely stands by her while also occasionally fighting back.

Directed by Lisa Cholodenko with Tom Hanks among the executive producers, Olive Kitteridge is certainly no Hallmark card. Norman Rockwell isn’t welcome either. This is a nuanced, slowly simmering look at bent and spindled lives molded by previous bent and spindled lives. The bright spots are there, but never glowing. Self-realization is the payoff. But as in real life, it often comes too late to express to those who needed to hear it most.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

CBS' The McCarthys agreeably plays it loud (laugh track included, of course)


Mom, dad and their four Boston-baked McCarthy kids. CBS photo

Premiering: Thursday, Oct. 30th at 8:30 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Tyler Ritter, Laurie Metcalf, Joey McIntyre, Jimmy Dunn, Kelen Coleman, Jack McGee
Produced by: Mike Sikowitz, Will Gluck, Richard Schwartz, Brian Gallivan, Andy Ackerman

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
CBS’ last new fall series of the season comes at you after the first four -- Scorpion, Stalker, Madam Secretary, NCIS: New Orleans -- already have been picked up for full first-year runs.

TV critics didn’t rave, but viewers have spoken via the weekly Nielsen ratings. And The McCarthys, also likely to receive mixed reviews at best, is a pretty good bet to join CBS’ ongoing parade of success stories that fit “the brand” by swimming in the mainstream.

In the comedy realm, that means another broadly rendered “multi-camera” outing filmed before a studio audience and sweetened when needed by an accompanying laugh track. The McCarthys originally went against this grain before CBS entertainment chairman Nina Tassler shifted it from a “single-cam” comedy (made without an audience or laugh track) to what historically has worked for CBS.

“A lot of people are very seduced by the romance of a single-camera comedy,” Tassler said when your friendly content provider questioned her at last summer’s Television Critics Association “press tour.” “But when we looked at the rhythms of The McCarthys, it was much better served in a multi-camera format. Ultimately, for our network and for our audience, they resonate.”

The rhythms are boisterous in The McCarthys, a Boston Irish family stocked with assertive, “traditional” but loving parents, twin sons who look nothing alike, a semi-slutty daughter and -- yo ho ho -- gay Ronny. They typically interact via rat-a-tat punchlines. As when Ronny (Tyler Ritter) suddenly announces he plans to accept a job as guidance counselor at a Providence, Rhode Island private school. At age 29, he’s also ready to “meet someone” after years of close proximity to the intrusive McCarthy clan.

But really -- Rhode Island? “That’s not a real state,” carps beefy twin Sean (Jimmy Dunn).

“It’s a great job and a fun, new city with a vibrant gay community,” Ronny retorts.

“Aren’t all gay communities vibrant?” thin twin Gerard (Joey McIntyre) cracks.

“Ronny! You’re still gay?!” mama Marjorie (Laurie Metcalf) exclaims.

Each of these lines has a studio audience/laugh-track spacer, the old-line sitcom equivalent of mortar between bricks. CBS’ companion Thursday night comedies -- The Big Bang Theory, Mom, Two and a Half Men -- and the network’s Monday night entries -- 2 Broke Girls, The Millers -- are all outfitted with the same delivery system. CBS strayed from this path last fall with the unadorned The Crazy Ones. It failed despite a high-powered cast led by the late Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar. OK, enough of that nonsense. Back to what works for a network that basically birthed the multi-cam form with the hugely successful I Love Lucy.

Patriarch Arthur McCarthy (Jack McGee) is a high school basketball coach and diehard Boston Celtics fan whose assistant, “Fatty” McFadden, dies off-camera of a heart attack in Thursday’s early going.

The family agrees to continue watching basketball and order pizza in Fatty’s memory before Dad gets down to basics: “Now I need a new assistant coach to replace that fat bastard.” (Small point: The “Fatty” in the open casket, with a basketball glued to his hands, does not look fat at all. But whatever.)

Meanwhile, it’s already been well-established in promos and CBS publicity materials that Dad shockingly will offer the job to Ronny, who will decline because he’s pretty much at sea when it comes to hoops. But another surprise development helps to pull him back in.

The McCarthys also drips like a name-dropping faucet, with multiple references to The Good Wife, Kyra Sedgwick and Annette Bening among others. And as long as the accomplished Metcalf is in the cast, they might as well work in a few wink-wink references to Roseanne down the road. Boy, the audience/laugh track would roar.

Whatever its traditional trappings, The McCarthys is buoyed by Metcalf’s always solid work and Ritter’s boyish appeal amid a capable, energetic ensemble. Some of the lines are amusing and even the clinkers don’t land too hard. So in basketball terms, this is a decent role player who picks up a few fouls, contributes a few points, plays solid defense and knows the basics of the game. Those kinds of players stick in the NBA. These kinds of shows stay on CBS.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

HBO's varnished James Brown documentary is still more thrilling than unfulfilling


James Brown: No one could him in his prime. HBO photo

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Obtaining the complete cooperation of any late legend’s estate invariably is a double-edged proposition.

In return for all that “rare and previously unseen footage,” a filmmaker generally is expected to downplay the controversial aspects of the subject’s life and times. So it goes with HBO’s Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown, which ends abruptly after fast-forwarding to the influence he had on artists ranging from Michael Jackson to rapper Chuck D.

Produced by Mick Jagger (who also helped birth the 2014 Brown biopic Get On Up) and directed by Alex Gibney, the two-hour documentary premieres on Monday, Oct. 27th at 8 p.m. (central). That’s directly opposite the Dallas Cowboys-Washington Redskins Monday Night Football face-off, although viewers in those two venues will have ample other opportunities to watch Mr. Dynamite on their own schedules.

The film loads up on Brown’s incredible stage performances and how he made his music on his terms and no one else’s. His political activism -- and the odd turn it took -- also is detailed at considerable length. But Brown’s repeated physical abuse of women is lamentably glossed over while his various drug addictions and latter day arrests go entirely unmentioned. He died on Christmas Day, 2006 at the age of 73. A series of elaborate memorial services ensued.

Jagger’s interest in Brown dates to seeing him first-hand during one of his many electric performances at Harlem’s Apollo Theater. There’s apparently no filmed footage of those historic early 1960s appearances. Or at least nothing is shown in Mr. Dynamite other than still pictures. But Jagger’s recollections are vivid. He recalls watching Brown from the Apollo balcony while seated next to an old lady smoking a joint.

“I was obviously learning from it,” he says, “trying to steal everything I possibly could do” as the gyrating lead vocalist for the then formative Rolling Stones.

A few years later, In 1964, Brown and The Famous Flames, the Stones, The Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye and other musical deities were all booked on the T.A.M.I. concert, which also was being filmed as a movie. In Mr. Dynamite’s most intriguing segment, Jagger remembers being asked to arbitrate after Brown objected to the Stones closing the show rather than him.

“He wasn’t really that mad. But he was a bit pissed off, I think,” Jagger says.

The upshot: Brown’s crazy-good retaliatory performance, much of it reprised in Mr. Dynamite, supposedly upstaged the Stones and made him a completely impossible act to follow. But Jagger says that a new audience was brought in while the stage was re-set after Brown’s performance.

“I don’t think they’d even seen James Brown,” he says. “Still, “if you watch the film, you see us up against him, so to speak,” Jagger adds. He laughs good naturedly and basically agrees that Brown reigned supreme that day. But it’s clear he also had pride in his own performance. And the crowd reaction to the Stones is hardly dismissive, even if the intensity of the squeals for Brown would have shattered far more crystal.

A number of Brown’s old band members also are interviewed. Some recall him as a “black power” capitalist in public forums, but a skinflint when it came to spreading the wealth. When band members finally confronted him, Brown simply cut them loose and recruited mostly new musicians.

Brown wore over-sized wigs or had his hair processed (“conked”) during his rise to fame via hits such as “Please, Please, Please; Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and “I Got You.” But he went natural for a while during the “black power” movement of the later 1960s while also recording his most stirring declaration of independence, “Say It Loud -- I’m Black, I’m Proud.”

The future “Godfather of Soul” regularly took his music and sometimes his views to The Mike Douglas Show, a syndicated afternoon hour in which Brown once memorably squared off with the imperial David Susskind. Condescendingly calling him “Jimmy,” Susskind said blacks were ill-advisedly re-segregating themselves. “Open your ears,” he told Brown, who wasn’t buying it.

“My ears have been open. Have your eyes been open?” Brown retorted. It’s an amazing verbal joust.

But after endorsing Democratic Party presidential nominee Hubert Humphrey in 1968, Brown re-embraced his processed coif and endorsed Richard Nixon’s 1972 re-election campaign. “I’m endorsing the country,” not a political party, he told an interviewer.

Many in the black community renounced him. Speaking volumes without saying a word, Mr. Dynamite includes footage of a black boy carrying a sign saying, “James Brown A Bought Brother.”

The film pretty much leaves it at that after showing a young Al Sharpton giving a plaque of appreciation to Brown on an episode of Soul Train. In a fresh interview for Mr. Dynamite, Sharpton also is the one who briefly touches on Brown’s mistreatment of women. He knew it was “wrong” and was contrite about it, Sharpton says. If anything, the physical abuse intensified in Brown’s later years. But the film seems to be saying in so many words, “Let’s move on.” The subject’s life still has 30-some years to go when Mr. Dynamite closes the door on it with an appreciation of his music’s ripple effect.

James Brown’s parents both abandoned him at an early age, the film points out on more than one occasion. It left him to be raised by an “Aunt Honey” who both ran a brothel and brewed moonshine. So he came from basically nothing and supposedly never conquered his insecurities or inability to fully trust those who worked for him.

“He had to force people to be around him. I think he was lonely,” says Fred Wesley, Brown’s former trombonist and band leader.

“I guess you could say James Brown was a tyrant,” tour manager Alan Leeds says. But he chalks this up to how hard he had to fight to get to the top.

Mr. Dynamite, and no doubt Brown’s estate, are primarily intent on charting that rise. Much of the performance footage is phenomenal in that respect. But in two hours time, the film could have dug deeper rather than coming to a screeching halt that almost rivals its subject’s high-pitched stage wails. Then again, it’s partly titled The Rise of James Brown. The descent just doesn’t cut it from an estate-authorized standpoint.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

More comic bookery on NBC's wham, bam and oft-befuddling Constantine


Matt Ryan (not the Atlanta Falcons quarterback) stars in Constantine. NBC photo

Premiering: Friday, Oct. 24th at 9 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Matt Ryan, Harold Perrineau, Charles Halford, Angelica Celaya
Produced by: Daniel Cerone, David S. Groyer, Mark Verheiden

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Anything can happen and an awful lot does in NBC’s first episode of Contantine. In this case, that’s a problem.

Friday’s crazily paced, head-spinning premiere may be elementary to those very intensely familiar with the Hellblazer DC Comics series on which it’s based. Most viewers won’t be so versed, though. Which makes it a considerable leap from “Dude, makes perfect sense to me” to “What the hell’s going on here?”

Title character John Constantine, energetically played by Welsh-born Matt Ryan, is a self-described exorcist beset by demons both within and without him. He’s first seen in a Northern England sanitarium, undergoing shock treatment. This doesn’t seem to help, causing him to blow up at his therapist before he subdues a possessed young woman who’s painting a bloody masterpiece amid thousands of creepy crawlies.

The words “LIV DIE” then appear on a wall, prompting Constantine to deduce, “I’ve got work to do.” He’s soon pulling up in a yellow cab next to a woman named Liv (guest star Lucy Griffiths), whose auto has mysteriously malfunctioned atop an Atlanta parking garage. “If you don’t listen to me, you’ll be dead by morning,” Constantine warns after a huge hole opens up, followed by an explosion.

Next comes Manny the angel (Harold Perrineau from Lost), who has super-sized wings and an overall disdain for Constantine. “You’re not OK, John,” he says with an imperious air. “You damned a woman to hell. And along with her, your soul.”

This is complicated. Constantine remains obsessed with rescuing young Astra (guest star Bailey Tippen), who’s been taken away by some sort of “inner circle” demon. Liv, whose late father, Jasper, was a fellow demon-chaser and mentor to Constantine, has left her with the same power to “see the world for what it really is.” Which is why the evil-doers want her dead. Which means that Constantine must use her as “bait.” Hey, my head’s hurting, too.

Liv originally was supposed to be a regular character in Constantine. But the producers decided to write her out after Friday’s first episode in favor of a more powerful ally named Zed (Angelica Celaya), who’s scheduled to show up in Episode 2.

All kinds of weird stuff is visited upon Liv before she hits the cutting room floor. A “ghost train” passes through both her and Constantine, prompting him to explain, “There are worlds beyond ours -- parallel planes of existence.” Liz’s girlfriend also is brutally murdered before she sees Constantine’s trusty pal, Chas (Charles Halford), seemingly die after being impaled. Then there’s the climactic “demon seal,” drawn by Constantine atop the parking garage because “there are millions of demons. We have to figure out which one of them has you marked for death.”

Ryan also gets to say “mate” on several occasions while adding a couple of “bollocks.” In other words, there’s no attempt to Americanize him or neuter his thick European accent. He also comes complete with a self-deprecating sense of humor. When Liv rather sarcastically recites the “Master of the Dark Arts” description on his business cards, Constantine shoots back, “I’m getting new ones made.” It’s a nice but very brief respite from the constant mayhem.

Constantine and Manny the opinionated angel will continue to spar as this series tries to take somewhat coherent form. “You’re a sideshow attraction, a peddler of shabby magic,” Manny sniffs.

Our hero -- or whatever he is -- will wind up in the mountains of Western Pennsylvania for the Halloween episode of Constantine. Until then, he makes a climactic narrative pledge: “I’ll drive your demons away. Kick ‘em in the bollocks and spit on ‘em when they’re down. Leavin’ only a nod and a wink and a wisecrack.”

Paired with NBC’s like-minded Grimm on Friday nights, Constantine doubles down on both shape-shifting and puzzlements. Its whiz-bang-boom special effects also might serve as ample enticements for viewers who don’t much care whether anything makes any real sense. Others can simply stick with the straight-from-the-shoulder story lines of CBS’ competing Blue Bloods. No danger of confusion there.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

An independent woman and a crack shot, too: new DVD collection revisits trailblazing Annie Oakley TV series

gaildavisstill250 annie-oakley-2

Gail Davis as TV’s Annie Oakley and the real deal.

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Return with us now to those thrilling days of Little Barky’s pre-pubescence, where Gail Davis as Annie Oakley was must-see TV for reasons that had nothing to do with the idea of gender empowerment.

Your future friendly content provider watched for one over-riding reason -- a crush. The same could be said for the many hours spent viewing Annette on The Mickey Mouse Club and even Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, whose horrid production values were overshadowed by star Irish McCalla’s curvature.

All these years later, though, it’s demonstrably true what they’re now saying about Annie Oakley. Davis, a University of Texas at Austin grad and protege of Gene Autry, starred in “one of the first television shows to successfully portray a woman as independent, with courage, dignity and honor.”

Westerns began riding high back in the 1950s, with men calling the shots and women mostly content to watch them hit the dusty trail before returning to a home-cooked meal. Not so with Annie Oakley. In the very first episode, subtitled “Annie Gets Her Man,” she grew weary of shooting the gun out of the hand of a short-tempered twentysomething punk played by Dwayne (Dobie Gillis) Hickman’s older brother, Darryl.

“Now you be a good boy or Annie’ll spank,” she told him. At that precise moment, she earned her spurs.

Made by Autry’s Flying A Productions, the half-hour series originally ran in syndication from 1954 to ’57 before ABC later aired reruns on weekend mornings. A total of 81 half-hour episodes were filmed. And this week Annie Oakley: The Complete Series is newly available on DVD via vcientertainment.com.

“He felt that a little girl should have a heroine,” Davis says of Autry in an audio interview included in the package.

The 11-disc collection also has a 34-minute documentary on Davis; a collection of commercials for products she sold as Annie; and the original unsold Annie Oakley pilot, which starred Billy Gray (the future “Bud” of Father Knows Best) as her energetic little brother, Tagg. Jimmy Hawkins eventually got that role and played it for the entire series. Brad Johnson, as towering deputy Lofty Craig, was the other principal regular character. He may have been sweet on Annie, but seldom showed it.

Each episode began with an announcer declaring, “Bullseye! Annie Oakley hits the entertainment bullseye every week with her hard ridin’ (see her catch a runaway stage coach), straight shootin’ (Annie stood atop her galloping horse, Target, and fired a shot through the center of a 9 of Spades) and suspense” (demonstrated by Annie sneaking through a half-open window).

Although she got to show off her storied marksmanship, the scrapped original pilot for Annie Oakley portrayed her as appreciably more prim and deferential. She wore ribbons in her hair and girly dresses part of the time while deferring to her Uncle Luke, sheriff of smallish Diablo, Arizona.

“Lofty, take Annie back into town. She’s not safe running around alone. I’ll follow the trail of those murderers,” Uncle Luke ordered. Annie silently acquiesced.

In the re-made opening episode, Uncle Luke was out of town, as he would be in virtually every episode. This left the bossing and most of the sleuthing to Annie. Clayton Moore, who went on to star as The Lone Ranger, is fleetingly seen in Episode 1 as an unmasked, second tier bad guy with a couple of speaking lines.

Annie remained sweet-tempered throughout the series, nurturing Tagg as his big sis even after a growth spurt made Hawkins slightly taller than her by the show’s final year.

The plots were never brain surgery -- or even a cyst removal. Late in the last of three seasons, an episode titled “Santa Claus Wears A Gun” introduced viewers to Snowy Kringle, a white-bearded old sharpshooter in town with his “Big Carnival Show.” He ended up being framed for robbery before Annie and Lofty eventually snuffed out the real villain. Annie more than did her part by shooting the padlock off a box from a long distance and later executing a nifty head-over-heels flip of a varmint who very briefly got the drop on her.

Autry, one of the first to sniff gold in weekly TV westerns, made certain that Annie Oakley generated a steady stream of merchandise ranging from comic books to lunch boxes to a red, white and blue belt and holster with twin six guns.

Davis and Hawkins, in character as Annie and Tagg, also relentlessly pitched products. A collection of commercials on a bonus disc shows they specialized in talking up the nutritional and tasty merits of Wonder Bread and Hostess Cupcakes, Twinkies and Sno-Balls.

In these cases, the woman of the house reverted to stereotype. Even Annie Oakley wasn’t about to change that equation, with Davis telling the show’s impressionable young viewers, “Why don’t you ask your mom to pick up a package next time she shops?” Or, “Ask mom to buy a loaf next time she goes shopping.”

The real, sterner-face Annie Oakley, born Phoebe Ann Mosey, died in 1926 at age 66. Gail Davis, born Betty Jeanne Grayson, died at age 71 in 1997. Near the end, in 1994, she finally received the Golden Boot Award honoring those who have made special contributions to the Western movie and TV industry.

Autry, a charter winner in 1983, is shown alongside her at the ceremony on the Annie Oakley bonus disc.

The award since has been discontinued while the Annie Oakley TV series rides again for those who remember it back when. In retrospect, it’s much more a pathfinder than a footnote in the history of how television depicted its women characters.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Music to his ears: HBO's Sonic Highways indulges Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl


Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl vs. Chicago’s cold. HBO photo

Premiering: Friday, Oct. 17th at 10 p.m. (central) on HBO
Starring: Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl, his bandmates and various musicians/producers
Directed and co-produced by: Dave Grohl

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Dave Grohl means well, even if his Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways series doesn’t always hit the right musical chords.

Each hour of the 8-episode series “is devoted to a different American musical landmark, chronicling the history, cultural environment and people that define each city’s unique musical identity,” according to HBO publicity materials.

First up Friday night is Chicago, presumably defined above all by the blues. Grohl, who directed each episode, indeed spends some time with Buddy Guy, the Muddy Waters disciple whose guitar ferociously tore into the blues.

“His playing is so intense that it sounds mean,” says Jimmie Vaughan.

But Cheap Trick and the ‘80s punk band Naked Raygun get equal exposure while Chicago (the band) gets hardly any time at all.

Choices must be made here, and you can’t include everyone. But this opening chapter of Sonic Highways pretty much is funneled through the words of Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins, who says, “I don’t care about the blues really. When I think of Chicago, I think of Cheap Trick. That’s about as deep as I go.” This strikes him as funny.

Grohl also devotes ample time to producer Steve Albini, veteran proprietor of the Electrical Audio recording studio, former peripheral member of Naked Raygun and known in the industry for being a “cynical prick.” Albini also produced and recorded Nirvana’s third album, “In Utero,” back when Grohl was the band’s drummer.

None of this is boring. Who knew, for instance, that the famed Cubby Bear sports bar, located in the heart of Wrigleyville, used to be a weeknight mecca for the punk scene? As a wide-eyed kid, Grohl was taken there by his very grownup cousin, Tracey Bradford, with whom he reconnects in Sonic Highways. “It just turned my world upside down,” he tells her. She was a punk performer herself, with Verboten.

In each of the 10 cities they visited, Foo Fighters recorded a song for their new album at a “legendary studio integral to the unique history and character of each of these great musical capitals.” In Chicago, they pound through “Something From Nothing,” with Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen sitting in. This decidedly isn’t the blues. And Buddy Guy is nowhere to be seen.

Episode 2, also made available for review, originates from Washington, D.C. Grohl grew up in a Virginia suburb, and the Inner Ear Studio “produced the entire soundtrack of my youth,” he recalls.

Again, that would be punk, with former members of Bad Brains and Teen Idles getting most of Grohl’s attention along with Inner Ear Studio owner Don Zientara.

“Go-Go” music also gets into the mix, with an emphasis on this funk genre’s founding father, the late Chuck Brown. But Grohl’s go-to guy is veteran local punk potentate Ian MacKaye, whom he idolized growing up.

The Foo Fighters put on a D.C. club show with both punksters and funksters during this second hour of Sonic Highways. Alas, all viewers will get is Grohl’s tease of a long night of heavy duty rock. Then it’s immediately on to the Inner Ear Studio for a closing performance of “The Feast and the Famine,” which also will be on a new Foo Fighters album scheduled to be released on November 10th.

Sonic Highways’ other stops will be in Nashville, New Orleans, New York, Los Angeles, Seattle and Austin, where Grohl hooks up with Gibby Haynes, co-founder of Butthole Surfers and son of the late, legendary Dallas children’s TV host Jerry “Mr. Peppermint” Haynes.

Open questions: will Sonic Highways at least emphasize jazz in New Orleans and country in Nashville? And might the Foo Fighters stray from their comfort zone to record a song in each vein?

Whatever happens, this is an interesting series and a worthy endeavor that makes terrific use of archival footage in both of the first two hours. But the overall emphasis on punk is at the expense of more vital genres. Nowhere more so than in Chicago, where Buddy Guy and other bluesmen aren’t exactly left out in the cold but too often hit the cutting room floor.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Viewers should get engaged with NBC's Marry Me


Ken Marino and Casey Wilson of new comedy Marry Me. NBC photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Oct. 14th at 8 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Casey Wilson, Ken Marino, John Gemberling, Sarah Wright Olsen, Tymberlee Hill, Tim Meadows
Produced by: David Caspe, Seth Gordon, Jamie Tarses

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
As sitcom setups go, the opening minutes of NBC’s Marry Me may be the best you’ll see this season -- on a new or returning series.

It’s a brilliantly conceived rant and recant introduction of principal characters Jake and Annie (Ken Marino, Casey Wilson). They’ve just celebrated six years together with a vacation in Mexico. But at age 32, she’s tired of waiting for him to pop the key question. So upon return it’s hell to pay -- but in ways she never imagined.

Wilson and Marry Me creator David Caspe previously collaborated on ABC’s Happy Ending, which basked in favorable reviews but didn’t cut it with enough viewers. They’re now married in real life, and this new series is a loose adaptation of the run-up to that. Annie is volatile and gabby, Jake is calmer and less verbal. But as he tells her in Tuesday’s premiere episode, “I need your explosions. You challenge me.”

A flashback scene to the night they first met is brief and to the point. And there’s not a speck of narration, which has been much over-used this season in an effort to dodge the bigger challenge of writing strong character dialogue.

Although more distinctive than derivative, Marry Me still can’t escape fall’s invasion of the shlubby bearded buddy. Which means that Jake’s best pal is the divorced Gil (John Gemberling), who’s needy, adrift and equipped with “a body like a bag of ground beef.”

The pilot episode made available for review still has two f-bombs intact (they’ll be bleeped or removed entirely) and a sucker punch of a line that goes like this: “We literally cannot get away from each other. We’re like Paula Deen and the n-word.”

Jake’s widowed mom, Myrna (played by the estimable JoBeth Williams), will be a recurring character. Annie has two dads, “Kevin One” and “Kevin Two” (Tim Meadows, Dan Bucatinsky). “I am a product of an egg from a lesbian my dads no longer speak to,” Annie says by means of explaining her oft-combative attitude toward moms at large. Birth by artificial insemination apparently can be a bitch sometimes.

Marry Me runs a solid second to ABC’s black-ish in the informal competition for best new comedy series of the fall season. Episode 1 gets off to a terrifically inventive start, with Wilson and Marino teeing things up before further hitting their grooves apart from one another. Paired with the welcome second season return of About A Boy, it gives NBC a smart and engaging comedy duo.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Appealing star of CW's Jane the Virgin comes off as seasoned vet


Testing positive’s not a positive in Jane the Virgin. CW photo

Premiering: Monday, Oct. 13th at 8 p.m. (central) on The CW
Starring: Gina Rodriguez, Justin Baldoni, Andrea Navedo, Brett Dier, Yael Grobglas, Ivonne Coll, Jaime Camil
Produced by: Jennie Snyder, Ben Silverman, Gary Pearl, Jorge Granier, Brad Silberling

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
A luminous young star can work wonders for any premise. Which Gina Rodriguez does as the title character in The CW’s Jane the Virgin.

Still “saving herself” at age 23 after an unyielding grandma drilled virginity into her, Jane Villanueva finds herself expecting after being accidentally artificially inseminated with sperm from a cancer-surviving Miami hotel owner with looks that could kill. Further complications quickly pile up in this loose adaptation of the telenovela Juana la Virgen.

Jane’s own fondness for telenovelas and grilled cheese sandwiches has been with her since a pre-teen indoctrination by devout Grandma Alba (Ivonne Coll), whose own daughter Xiomara (Andrea Navedo) gave birth to Jane after being impregnated at age 16. Alba doesn’t want a rerun. So she’s used a flower as a symbol of virginity while instructing her granddaughter in the fine art of abstaining until marriage. Crumple a flower and it can never be what it once was, Jane is taught. Lesson implanted.

But Jane’s life becomes “the stuff of telenovelas,” in the words of a Ricardo Montalban-sounding narrator, after a pap smear goes awry courtesy of a pre-occupied doctor who’s just caught her lover in bed with another. Hey, it happens -- or at least it does here. Hunky hotel owner Rafael (Justin Baldoni) had no idea that his duplicitous wife, Petra (Yael Grobglas), intended to artificially impregnate herself as a means of keeping their lousy marriage intact long enough for her to collect a big financial settlement.

Jane, who works at the hotel while studying to become a teacher, has been dating an Anglo detective named Michael (Brett Dier). He longs to slide into home plate with her but has agreed to wait until they’re married. So it’s a bit of a shocker to learn that she’s suddenly pregnant with another man’s child.

Jane the Virgin tries to walk a tightrope between comedy and poignancy. It sometimes teeters, but Rodriguez is perfectly calibrated throughout. She’s arguably the most engaging newcomer of the fall season, whether pouring wine as a mermaid at the hotel or pouring herself out to grandma while trying to explain how “a sample of a man” got inside of her.

The oft-ridiculed CW network has just two series this fall. But both The Flash and Jane the Virgin turn out to be potentially better bargains than the majority of first-year series being rolled out by the Big Four broadcast networks. Rodriguez lights up every scene she’s in, never more so than in the closing one for Monday’s premiere.

“And then everything changed,” the narrator adds. It seems worth sticking around to see how.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Showtime's The Affair tantalizes for starters


Ruth Wilson and Dominic West in budding stages of The Affair. Showtime photo

Premiering: Sunday, Oct.12th at 9 p.m. (central) on Showtime
Starring: Dominic West, Maura Tierney, Ruth Wilson, Joshua Jackson
Produced by: Sarah Treem, Hagai Levi, Jeffrey Reiner, Eric Overmyer

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
One protagonist is going to be blindsided by a mid-life crisis. The other is still in the throes of a twentysomething trauma. Their launchpad is Showtime’s 10-episode The Affair, which slowly starts unfolding Sunday following another Season 4 episode of Homeland.

Starring Dominic West, Maura Tierney, Ruth Wilson and Joshua Jackson, the series has considerable promise. But Showtime unusually has made only the opening one-hour episode available for review, making it difficult to assess how well The Affair will tell the rest of its story.

Viewers first meet first-time author/New York public school teacher Noah Solloway (Dominic West of The Wire), a harried married man of 17 years. He and his wife, Helen (Maura Tierney), are outnumbered by four children, two of them almost impossible to manage. They’re all getting ready to spend the summer with Helen’s parents at their posh Hamptons estate. Noah’s not thrilled with this. His father-in-law, Bruce Butler (John Doman) is a wealthy, successful novelist with an imperious demeanor. In short, he’s a dick.

Enroute to their gilded prison, the Solloways stop at a diner whose employees include young waitress Allison Bailey (Ruth Wilson). She’s taking their orders when the Solloways’ youngest daughter begins choking on a marble. Noah’s already been through the wringer with his churlish oldest son, whose earlier idea of a practical joke is horrifying to say the least.

Allison is married to Cole Lockhart (Joshua Jackson), whose family owns a ranch that’s become financially strapped. She’s still deeply grieving the loss of their four-year-old son while he’s been better able to pick up the pieces and move on.

Executive producers Sarah Treem and Hagai, who earlier collaborated on HBO’s very interior In Treatment series, have constructed what Treem calls a “Rashomon-like framing device” in which events are remembered differently within each two-part episode. Sunday’s premiere begins from Noah’s perspective before transitioning to “Allison’s Story.” For instance, he remembers her as a flirtatious temptress while she remembers their first kiss as an uncomfortable moment instigated by him.

There are many other varying recollections on what led to what. Did Allison coax Noah into having a cigarette with her or vice-versa? Did he offer to walk her home from the beach after a second chance meeting? Or was it the other way around?

Each half-hour chapter within the overall story ends with a one-on-one interrogation by the same police detective (played by Victor Williams). Foul play of some sort is indicated but not specified in any way during Sunday’s premiere.

So where is this all going? Is anyone “at fault?” Who gets hurt the worst? And what about that crime story element?

It certainly would have helped to see more. But The Affair for now has done its job by tantalizingly baiting its hook. The solid performances by its four principals further heighten both the drama and the expectations. It’s enough for now, but we’ll see if both the premise and the promise have staying power.

GRADE: B+ for starters but still incomplete

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

ABC's Dallas-set Cristela embraces Cowboys/diversity


It’s all smiles for now from the cast of Cristela. ABC photo

Premiering: Friday, Oct. 10th at 7:30 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Cristela Alonzo, Carlos Ponce, Maria Canals-Barrera, Terri Hoyos, Andrew Leeds, Justine Lupe, Sam McMurray, Gabriel Iglesias
Produced by: Kevin Hench, Cristela Alonzo, Marty Adelstein, Becky Clements

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
A few wins can make a big difference when it comes to championing the Dallas Cowboys in a network sitcom.

The pilot for ABC’s Dallas-set Cristela, available for screening on the network’s media site since early last summer, found its title character steadfastly pledging allegiance to both the Cowboys and their starting quarterback. At the time that seemed like a fool’s errand. Now it’s perfectly timed to the team’s surprising 4-1 start to the season.

“Kind of saving myself for Tony Romo,” says diehard fan Cristela (Cristela Alonzo). “If his marriage ever goes South, I need to be there for him.”

Cristela’s sister, Daniela (Maria Canals-Barrera), dreams of her daughter becoming a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. There’s a little slippage later in the premiere, when Cristela somewhat jokingly refers to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones as an “old buffoon” and a “demented geriatric” during an interview with her prospective law firm boss. But it all ends with the entire family watching a Cowboys game on TV and cheering wildly when they score.

Your friendly content provider was of little faith when he brought up the Cowboys during Cristela’s mid-July interview session with TV critics.

“It’s tough being a Dallas Cowboys fan right now,” Alonzo was told.

“Why do you want to make me cry?” she rejoined.

But as a native of San Juan, TX, she’s been “a Cowboys fan my entire life . . . I am a diehard Cowboys fan all the time forever. I will support them. It’s just that every year they break my heart. But every year I think this is going to be the year.”

Alonzo, 35, said she also planned to make another pilgrimage to the Cowboys training camp in Oxnard, CA. “Like I always do. Got to support the boys.”

All of the Cowboys references have made it to the on-air version of Cristela, which premieres on Friday, Oct. 10th following Last Man Standing. Both comedies are old-line “multi-cams” filmed before a studio audience with laugh track sweeteners. ABC’s six other sitcoms, three of them new, are all “single cams” filmed without any audience input or giggle overlay.

Cristela takes a broad approach in its depiction of a fractious Hispanic family and a workplace dominated by Anglos. Still struggling to finish law school, the title character lives at home with sister Daniela, her complaining husband, Felix (Carlos Ponce), and a typically stern mama named Natalia (Terri Hoyos). Most of her fire is aimed at Cristela, although mama’s not wild about cheerleading either.

“I didn’t have cheerleading as a kid,” she grouses. ”We had fun games like getting water from the well -- and digging the well.”

That’s not a bad line. Nor is Cristela’s retort when Felix tells her, “If you were my wife, I’d poison your coffee.”

“If you were my husband, I’d drink it,” she says.

Felix’s cousin and workmate, Alberto (standup comic Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias), also drops in and out to coarsely flirt with Cristela.

The show is pretty much equally split between the home front and the workplace, where Cristela’s fellow law firm interns are a very nice Jewish guy named Josh (Andrew Leeds) and the boss’s ditzy blonde daughter, Maddie (Justine Lupe). She initially thinks Cristela is a member of the cleaning crew. Veteran Sam McMurray throws in a little ham-handed racial humor as a bossman named Trent. But Cristela rolls with him while also firing back with her own one-liners.

Episode 2 is considerably weaker than the watchable premiere. It’s built around Cristela’s reluctance to date via the Internet and mama’s belief that she therefore could be a lesbian. Are we not yet beyond that kind of running joke?

If Cristela has any staying power, it will be because of its high-appeal star. Alonzo seems like a natural in a show that intermittently amuses while giving the new fall schedule something it otherwise doesn’t have -- a comedy series driven by a Hispanic cast. That alone isn’t enough to earn any free passes. But it might prompt ABC to exercise a little more patience while continuing to invest in a lot more diversity than rivals CBS, NBC and Fox.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

American Horror Story regenerates brilliantly with Freak Show


Kathy Bates again shows she’ll do anything for the part. FX photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Oct. 8th at 9 p.m. (central) on FX
Starring: Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Sarah Paulson, Michael Chiklis, Evan Peters, Frances Conroy, Angela Bassett, Emma Roberts, Finn Wittrock, Denis O’Hare, Patti LaBelle, Wes Bentley
Produced by: Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, Tim Minear, Bradley Buecker, Jennifer Salt, Jessica Sharzer, Dante Di Loreto, James Wong

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Not at all coincidentally it seems, FX’s two most-watched series also happen to be its most twisted and gruesome.

Sons of Anarchy is in the early stages of an announced final season. American Horror Story’s fourth installment, subtitled Freak Show, premieres on Wednesday, Oct. 8th.

The American viewing public apparently knows what it wants from its cable dramas, given the runaway ratings successes of two other mayhem-driven serials, AMC’s The Walking Dead and HBO’s Game of Thrones. In the case of Freak Show, expect to reap a wealth of depravity and disfigurement during what very much looks to be the best reincarnation yet of a bold, disturbing franchise.

Again led by Jessica Lange (a two-time Emmy winner for previous AHS roles), this is an absolute wonderment of composition, cinematography, costuming, special effects and shivers. Principal producers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have built the firmest foundation yet for their latest collection of fright nights. See the brawny, sour-tempered bearded lady. Marvel at the three-breasted woman, the beauteous conjoined twins and the “Lobster Boy” whose fused fingers are a safe sex baton of orgasmic delight. A super-creepy demonic clown also is on the loose, stabbing his way through Jupiter, FL, circa 1952. What’s not to like?

Lange this time out is Elsa Mars, a cut-rate Marlene Dietrich who yearns to be a star while recruiting new freaks for a show that’s lately fallen on hard times. Her first lieutenant, bearded Ethel Darling (Kathy Bates), laments that “thanks to Red Skelton and Lucille Ball, people are getting their jollies at home now.”

But Elsa is sure she knows what’s still ailing all those ripe-for-the-picking bumpkins out there. And Lange again excels in bringing her latest duplicitous AHS character into full bloom. Near the end of Wednesday’s extended 90-minute episode, she grandly sings up a storm as her freak show’s grande dame emcee. It’s a tune that wouldn’t be out of place at all on The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour album. Never mind that it’s not really a fit for what was going down in 1952. Who really cares when the performance jumps off the screen.

Lange also is always good for one of those deliciously hissing riffs that virtually make her a lock for another Emmy. They’re desperate for excitement in “all these little towns,” she says with complete certitude. “Housewives pinched with bitterness, stupefied with boredom as they doze off in front of their laundry detergent commercials and dr-e-e-e-eam of strange, erotic pleasures.”

Fellow AHS rep player Sarah Paulson this time has the difficult dual role of Bette and Dot Tattler, who share some of the same organs but not dispositions. The illusion is complete here, with one twin a naysayer and the other yearning to live a little. “Has anyone tasted your cherry pie?” Elsa inquires of both. That’d be a yes and a look of utter disgust.

Evan Peters also returns to AHS as Ethel’s son, Jimmy “Lobster Boy” Darling. He despises being called a freak and also has grown weary of pleasing the ladies instead of himself. Another AHS alum, Angela Bassett, is back as the three-breasted Desiree Dupree, who’s not shy about displaying her trifecta. She’s married to strongman Dell Toledo (Michael Chiklis), who’s also Ethel’s ex-. Chiklis, seen first in Episode 2, is taking his maiden AHS voyage. But he put FX on the map as combustible detective Vic Mackey on The Shield.

Freak Show is not for the easily repulsed. Nor were the three previous AHS tales. But its setting and storytelling possibilities are off the charts. And the musical performances, whether by Lange or the two Paulsons in Episode 2, are an added bonus from the producers who orchestrated Glee.

I was a marginal fan of the first American Horror Story before being put off by both Asylum and Coven. But Freak Show looks like a beauty, with a wealth of fascinating characters and a little smattering of heart helping to balance out the grisly appointed rounds of a so far unidentified clown with a hellish half-mask.

Keep those songs coming, too. They fit right in as part of the damnedest show on earth.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

CW's new The Flash quickly gets up to speed


Who is that masked man? Grant Gustin as The Flash. CW photo

Premiering; Tuesday, Oct. 7th at 7 p.m. (central) on The CW
Starring: Grant Gustin, Candice Patton, Daniel Panabaker, Rick Cosnett, Carlos Valdes, Tom Cavanaugh, Jesse L.Martin
Produced by: Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg, David Nutter, Sarah Schechter

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Above all else, any TV adaptation of The Flash needs a pulse-quickening pilot episode.

Mission fulfilled in Tuesday’s premiere, in which the renowned speed racer returns in the capable hands of the creative team behind CW’s Arrow.

Grant Gustin (Glee) stars as semi-geeky Barry Allen, whose life is ramped up considerably by a “particle accelerator” run amuck. As an 11-year-old he witnessed the death of his mother, Nora, from a mysterious lightning attack that police never bought. So they instead arrested Barry’s father (a guest shot by John
Wesley Shipp, star of CBS’ 1990 Flash series), who’s been serving time for her murder ever since.

As do most new dramas these days, The Flash opens with a narrative setup. “You need to believe in the impossible,” Barry informs the viewing public, many of whom already believe in all kinds of outlandish TV premises. “Can you do that? Good.”

Before fully discovering his powers, Barry is a forensics wunderkind whose boss is detective Joe West (sturdy Jesse L. Martin), who also raised him. West’s daughter, Iris (Candice Patton) has become Barry’s best friend, although he now yearns to take that to the next level. But another lightning bolt intervenes, leaving a jagged mark across his chest.

Nine months later, Barry jolts awake from a coma while within the confines of S.T.A.R. Labs, run by discredited “visionary” physicist Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanaugh). Wells’ two young aides, Caitlin Snow and Cisco Ramon (Danielle Panabaker, Carlos Valdes), have been tending to him in hopes he’ll re-emerge as a “meta human.” Which in true comic book fashion is exactly what happens.

The Flash isn’t as darkly foreboding as Fox’s new Batman prequel, Gotham. It has more of a spring in its step and some quips on its lips while also going about the serious business of bringing a super-powered group of bad guys to justice.

The action-hero uniform designed for Barry is much darker than the stop engine red leotard worn by the comic book original. Myself, I’m a fan of the older, brighter model.

Barry also somehow manages to hook up with the Green Arrow (Stephen Arnell dropping in from the CW series), who gives him a brief pep talk. “The good you will do will far outweigh the bad,” he counsels the kid, who’s ready to rock.

Gustin generates more than just blazing speed in the title role. He’s appealing both in and out of civilian clothes, with Barry still pining for Iris (who’s now dating a hunky detective) while The Flash sets his jaw and explores new vistas in fast-action heroism.

Cavanaugh, who’s kicked around for a decade in a wide variety of TV stuff since starring in NBC’s Ed, may finally have found a role that suits him in The Flash. Let’s just say he’s not all that he seems -- they never are -- as the now wheelchair-bound head of S.T.A.R. Does he have Barry’s best interests at heart? Or is he a sinister Svengali?

CW has paired The Flash with its long-running Supernatural instead of Arrow on Tuesday nights this fall. Its sci-fi/comic book-heavy lineup also includes The Vampire Diaries, The Originals and The 100.

The Flash pushes most of the right buttons with its engaging first episode. It’s alternately action-packed, character-driven and poignant, with dashes of humor here and there. CW’s younger target audience is likely to buy right in. Fan boys and girls of all ages likewise should find much to like in this tale of a onetime bullied kid now equipped to save lives while moving faster than a speeding bullet -- not to say Usain Bolt.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Who shot Dallas? In the end it was mostly audience demographics


The younger and older Ewings of Dallas reboot. TNT photo

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
TNT’s cancellation of Dallas after three seasons and 40 episodes came as no particular surprise. Ratings had steadily fallen, with the two-hour Sept. 22nd finale averaging 1.72 million viewers compared to 4.29 million for Season One’s cliffhanger.

Still, the overriding reason for Dallas’ demise is another case study in network television’s obsession with who watches, not how many. Depictions of sex and violence on TV are constant topics in Congress and among various consumer “watchdog” groups. But the rampant practice of ageism goes unchecked. In the wide, wide world of prime-time TV, you’re still facing a death sentence if your audience skews too old. And in Dallas’s case it did, despite the injection of a new batch of younger, prettier Ewings. Even a bedroom-set three-way among John Ross Ewing, Pamela Rebecca Barnes and Emma Brown didn’t push the demographic needle at the close of Season 3’s first arc. Hey, they tried.

Also of consider import: the death of Larry Hagman during filming of Season 2. He may have been the oldest Dallas cast member, but Dallas without him was akin to The Sopranos without James Gandolfini or Gunsmoke absent James Arness. Besides that, he had a retro coolness that may have even appealed to a few viewers young enough to draw a blank when asked to identify Jimmy Carter.

The Dallas Season 3 finale ended up ranking a fairly respectable 16th in total viewers among all cable programs shown on Monday, Sept. 22nd. But with advertiser-prized 18-to-49-year-olds, Dallas drooped to a 37th place tie. VH1’s trio of Love & Hip Hop Hollywood, T.I. and Tiny 4 and Atlanta Exes all drew twice or more 18-to-49-year-olds than Dallas. So did Discovery’s Fast N Loud. Yes, you can count on all of them returning for new seasons.

Dallas, which was filmed entirely in North Texas, had an area “economic impact” of roughly $40 million for Season 2’s 15 episode, Dallas Film Commission director Janis Burklund estimated in a 2012 interview with unclebarky.com.

Replying via email from New York Monday, Burklund said the Film Commission is “extremely disappointed and hopes another outlet will pick it up. How likely is that? Who knows? Nothing is ‘typical’ anymore. We’re certainly not giving up hope!”

Burklund praised the Dallas cast and crew as the “best group we could have hoped for. If this campaign to save the show does not work out, we do have other projects looking and are by no means done. Afraid this is just the reality of how the business works.”

Patrick Duffy, who played goodly Bobby Ewing in both the CBS and TNT version of Dallas has been the most active among cast members in lobbying for a reprieve.

“I for one am not done with Bobby Ewing!” he tweeted. “Let’s see if some network wants the Ewings to live on!”

Well, the show isn’t cheap to produce, despite the seeming elimination of at least one paycheck when Christopher Ewing apparently expired in a car explosion at the close of Season 3. Of even more import, the viewing audience shows no signs of getting any younger. A&E recently canceled its critically praised Longmire series after three seasons despite its attracting double the total viewers that Dallas did throughout its last season. But the bulk of Longmire’s audience was deemed “undesirable.” Or to put it another way, too old for advertisers to pay “premium” rates.

Dallas’ best chance for survival -- or at least a two-hour wrap-up movie -- may reside with Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hulu Plus. “Streaming outlets” basically don’t care how old viewers are -- as long as they pay their monthly subscriber fees. For that matter, none of them release audience information either. But they don’t have advertisers to placate or please. The overriding concern is to keep those subs growing. And in that context, money collected from the old folks at home is just as green as anyone else’s.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Front and self-centered: Homeland returns with a steely Carrie Mathison


Claire Danes is back in action on Homeland as maladjusted Carrie Mathison. Season 4 launches with back-to-back hours Sunday night. Showtime photo

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
An addiction to action and an aversion to motherhood make CIA operative Carrie Mathison a sad, solitary player at the start of Homeland’s Season 4.

Showtime’s most-honored series reloads with back-to-back hours on Sunday, Oct. 5th (8 to 10 p.m. central). And after a somewhat plodding start in its first season without Damian Lewis’ deceased Nicholas Brody, Homeland begins to find its way again while Carrie (Claire Danes) fixates as only she can.

Without detailing too much, let’s at least divulge this. Initially assigned to Istanbul, where dependents are allowed, Carrie has arranged a transfer to Afghanistan for two principal reasons. War zones have more action and intrigue. But equally important to her is an opportunity to divest herself of baby daughter Frannie, who’s left stateside in the care of Carrie’s increasingly resentful sister, Maggie (Amy Hargreaves), and a part-time nanny.

This amounts to an emotional rescue for Carrie, who’s drinking hard again while being celebrated as “The Drone Queen” by her co-workers. But when a terrorist hit goes very bad, she’s plunged into the thick of an international debacle along with Islamabad, Pakistan CIA station head Sandy Bachman (guest star Corey Stoll).

Holdover Homeland character Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend), equipped with a moral compass that Carrie lacks, also finds himself ensnared. Back home in Washington, D.C., her former mentor, Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin), has gone to the private sector while the CIA’s diabolical new director, Andrew Lockhart (Tracy Letts), fumes and covers his tracks.

Homeland, whose fourth season will have 12 episodes, has never re-achieved the highs of Season 1. But its downward slide shows signs of leveling off by the end of Sunday’s opening two hours. Danes’ Carrie is steelier than ever, her heart hardened to near-concrete while going about the exhilarating business of eliminating terrorists no matter what the collateral damage.

Carrie retains residual feelings for Brody, but there are no flashbacks to their time together. He’s Frannie’s father but that’s not a tie that binds her. She’s barely capable of being a mother for a day. See Episode 2 for conclusive evidence of that.

Episode 1 ends with a chilling action sequence that for a time threatens to keep Carrie on the CIA’s bench. Quinn is left dazed and demoralized while she plots a return to action that again will free her from any possibility of diaper-changing and bottle-feeding.

Homeland is no longer a person-to-person love story. Carrie only has eyes for the next covert operation, throwing herself into the task with a ferocious determination to outwit, outplay and outlast all who would deter her. It’s called being a survivor -- strictly on her terms.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Mulaney crash-lands on Fox


John Mulaney (with mike) and his support group. Fox photo

Premiering: Sunday, Oct. 5th at 8:30 p.m. (central) on Fox
Starring: John Mulaney, Martin Short, Nasim Pedrad, Seaton Smith, Zack Pearlman, Elliot Gould
Produced by: Lorne Michaels, John Mulaney, David Miner, Dave Becky, Jon Pollack, Andrew Singer

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
The entirety of Mulaney is no better and usually inferior to those lame end-of-show sketches that barely make the cut on Saturday Night Live.

This is doubly tragic for Fox, since the show stars former SNL writer/performer John Mulaney and is co-produced by NBC’s lord of all late night, Lorne Michaels.

Mulaney, reed-thin and hopelessly adrift here, so far is succeeding only in being one of the worst sitcom actors ever. His timing is terrible and his delivery is flat and robotic. Perhaps he’s a nice guy. But Mulaney has no business fronting a prime-time sitcom whose laugh track must have been carried kicking and screaming into service. Already tanking severely in the prime-time ratings, Fox doesn’t need a dud like this. But the network has only itself to blame.

Episodes begin, as did Seinfeld, with Mulaney doing standup. After a bit of this unfunny business we unfortunately get to meet his friends.

Motif (Seaton Smith) is a fellow struggling standup who in Sunday’s premiere is trying to perfect a “problem bitches” routine. Thud. And insulting as well.

Jane (fellow SNL alum Nasim Pedrad) is a personal trainer who likewise gets dumbbell lines to recite. And Andre (Zack Pearlman) is the requisite tubby, bearded hanger-on. The Zach Galifianakis ripple effect still has no end in sight.

Two combat veterans also are in this mix. Martin Short, ever hammy, is vainglorious game show host Lou Cannon. He more or less hires Mulaney as a writer. But Short of course inhales every scene he’s in, occasionally inducing a grin. Not with this line, though. In Episode 2, he says, “Josef Stalin was dead for two weeks before anyone in Russia knew. Now there’s an entertainer.”

Elliot Gould plays Mulaney’s gay next door neighbor Oscar, whose daffiness doesn’t register in any context. Episode 2 finds him with two drop-in “big-time lesbians,” Tootie and Vaughn (guest stars Penny Marshall and Lorraine Bracco). The empty feeling persists.

Michaels perhaps has been way too busy to oversee Mulaney in addition to SNL, the show’s upcoming 40th anniversary special, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Late Night with Seth Meyers and Portlandia. Maybe he doesn’t even know Mulaney will soon be on the air. If so, ignorance would be bliss. This is a messy disposable diaper of a comedy series whose star plays himself without any idea of how to act or write the part.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Holding its own: Fox's Gracepoint a more than solid adaptation of the British Broadchurch


Anna Gunn and David Tennant at scene of the crime in Gracepoint. Fox photo

Premiering: Thursday, Oct. 2nd at 8 p.m. (central) on Fox
Starring: David Tennant, Anna Gunn, Virginia Kull, Michael Pena, Nick Nolte, Josh Hamilton, Kevin Rankin, Jacki Weaver, Kevin Zegers, Jessica Lucas, Stephen Louis Grush, Madalyn Horcher, Sarah-Jane Potts, Jack Irvine, Kendrick Sampson
Produced by: Dan Futterman, Anya Epstein, Chris Chibnail, Jane Featherstone, John Goldwyn, Carolyn Bernstein

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
You know how TV critics can be. Skepticism abounded when Fox announced it would Americanize the acclaimed 8-part British whodunit Broadchurch into a 10-part “mystery event” series titled Gracepoint.

But then came news that David Tennant would reprise his role as Alec Hardy, the taciturn, haunted detective of Broadchurch. Only this time he’d adapt an American accent while changing the character’s name to Emmett Carver.

Anna Gunn of Breaking Bad then signed on as Carver’s reluctant partner, Ellie Miller, played under the same name in Broadchurch by Olivia Colman. Three-time Oscar nominee Nick Nolte and two-timer Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom, Silver Linings Playbook) also joined the ensemble cast, providing further evidence that Fox might really have something here.

And as it turns out, Fox really does have something here.

Premiering on Thursday, Oct. 2nd, Gracepoint replicates the basic Broadchurch storyline while eventually veering off with new characters and possibilities. Fox sent seven of the 10 episodes for review. And hour seven in particular begins charting a brand new path.

Broadchurch had its U.S. premiere on BBC America in August of last year. Those who devoured it know who killed 12-year-old Danny Solano, whose body was found on the town beach in Episode 1. Dan Futterman, co-executive producer of Gracepoint, told TV critics this summer that “we end in a very different place.” So we’ll see about that.

The title community in both versions is a small coastal tourist mecca known for its whale sightings. Billed as “America’s Last Hometown” in Gracepoint, it’s been largely free from any serious crime. That abruptly changes when Danny is found murdered. Emmett, the newly named head detective, is quickly on the scene. Ellie, who very much wanted that job, learns she’s been bypassed after returning from vacation. So it’s an uneasy partnership, with Carver insisting on calling her “Miller” while he prefers to be addressed as “sir.”

Not that Ellie is altogether subservient. By Episode 2, she’s already had her fill. “You can keep your brooding, ass-aholic, big city cop act to yourself,” she tells him, adding “sir” as they get back into their squad car.

Tennant and Gunn make both characters crackle, whether alone or apart. But they have help in keeping Gracepoint in very fine form. Virginia Kull is superb as Danny’s grieving mother, Beth, and Nolte hits his stride during Gracepoint’s midpoint as a small shop owner and wildlife observation guide named Jack Reinhold. His troubled past eventually makes him a prime suspect among the many townspeople on the receiving end of “Where were you?” on the night of Danny’s murder. Ellie’s son, Tom (Jack Irvine), who was Danny’s best friend, likewise is a person of interest

Weaver plays embittered trailer home denizen Susan Wright, who has little use for anyone but her dog. She’s among the many who knows more than she initially lets on. Town minister Paul Coates (Kevin Rankin) and Danny’s dad, Mark (Michael Pena), also are intent on keeping some secrets. Gracepoint is deliberate but never plodding while peeling away these layers of deceit.

Fox has had a pretty miserable start to the new season, hitting one ratings ditch after another. And won’t be easy for Gracepoint in a challenging time slot opposite CBS’ Thursday Night Football and ABC’s Scandal.

This is where recording devices come in, though. Viewers are highly encouraged to bank episodes of Gracepoint if they choose not to watch it at the appointed hour.

Tennant, soon to be re-deploying his native British accent for Season 2 of Broadchurch, does not miss a beat in the Fox remake, even if his heart can be both cold and medically weak. Gunn is fully up to the task of matching him scene for scene after years of sparring with Bryan Cranston’s Walter White in Breaking Bad.

Gracepoint may not be superior to Broadchurch, but makes its own mark as fall’s best new broadcast network drama series -- even if in some ways it’s not.

Tennant’s estimable talents are the driving force of both versions, with each of the surrounding casts helping to keep him on point. For Fox, Gracepoint is mission accomplished. And that’s really saying something given the naysaying that first greeted it.

GRADE: A-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

NBC paints by the letters in new courtship comedy A to Z


Cristin Milioti and Ben Feldman are the featured matchup in A to Z. NBC photo

Premiering: Thursday, Oct. 2nd at 8:30 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Ben Feldman, Cristin Milioti, Lenora Crichlow, Henry Zebrowski, with narration by Katey Sagal
Produced by: Ben Queen, Rashida Jones, Will McCormack, Bill Callahan, Michael Patrick Jann

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Charming and disarming without yet being exceptional, NBC’s breezy A to Z nonetheless comfortably wins this season’s boy-meets-girl bout against ABC’s similarly themed Manhattan Love Story.

The male half of the equation, Ben Feldman as internet dating company employee Andrew Lofland, is far more likable and appealing than Manhattan’s resident skirt-chaser. Cristin Milioti, co-starring in A to Z as lawyer Zelda Vasco, has a lesser edge over her wide-eyed Manhattan counterpart.

The NBC show is very precise about what it’s about. Recurring narration (from an unbilled Katey Sagal) tells viewers that Andrew and Zelda will date for 8 months, 3 weeks, 5 days and 1 hour before some sort of outcome is determined. “This television program is the comprehensive account of their relationship -- from A to Z.,” Sagal says at both the beginning and end of Thursday’s premiere episode.

Milioti ended up being “The Mother” a k a “The Girl with the Yellow Umbrella” on CBS’ How I Met Your Mother. Feldman ended up going mad and cutting off one of his nipples as ad man Michael Ginsberg on last season’s Mad Men. So obviously they were made for one another.

Andrew and Zelda have worked in the same office complex for two and a half months, but hadn’t made eye contact until she shows up to represent an aggrieved client. He’s immediately taken with her, but she’s “not really into the dating thing right now.” That’s only a temporary condition.

Both Andrew and Zelda are affixed with best friends. He gets the requisite schlubby, decorum-challenged bearded pal -- named Stu (Henry Zebrowski). She hangs out with Stephie (who retains her British accent from last season’s Back in the Game). The first episode soon turns on whether the girl in the silver dress, whom Andrew first glimpsed and longed for at an arena rock concert, in fact was none other than Zelda. Because if it was, then “this is meant to be.”

A to Z also has an amusing “Hoverboard” mini-plot tied to the Back to the Future movies. Were they in fact real but deemed too dangerous to be marketed? Lea Thompson drops in as herself to further clue Andrew in.

Milioti’s Zelda has a winning pixie-ish quality and Feldman’s Andrew is earnest and anything but a cad. So it’s easy enough to root for a successful courtship, with Andrew managing to sell the line, “Maybe I could use a little ‘meant to be’ in my life. Just a little.”

For now, the opening “A” in their relationship stands for “Acquaintances.” Perhaps they’ll stay on that letter for a while with high hopes of getting all the way to tougher hurdles such as Q, X and even Z. Quixotic? Xistential? (OK, that’s cheating). Zeitgeist?

Based on the opening episode, A to Z at the very least is agreeable.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Odor in the court: NBC's Bad Judge has a vigorous star who's not yet well-served


Many days begin badly for the star of Bad Judge. NBC photo

Premiering: Thursday, Oct. 2nd at 8 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Kate Walsh, Tone Bell, Miguel Sandoval, John Ducey, Ryan Hansen
Produced by: Adam McKay, Will Ferrell, Anne Heche, Chad Kultgen, Jill Sobel Messick, Kevin Messick, Betsy Thomas, Kate Walsh

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
The star of NBC’s Bad Judge no longer plays the drums in a two-girl band called Ladycock. This deprives viewers of their hard rock performance of The Mary Tyler Moore Show theme song.

Nor does the judge take in a cute, bantering pre-teen boy at the end of the premiere episode. She had sentenced his drug-dealing parents to some hard time and he had nowhere else to go after being kicked out of a group home.

These subtractions, from the original pilot to Thursday’s revised on-air version, are to the detriment of a comedy that at least still has Kate Walsh in energetic mode as hellcat Rebecca Wright. Walsh was terrific as a recurring golddigger/temptress in FX’s Fargo. So it’s not really her fault that Bad Judge still hasn’t kicked in after the first two episodes made available for review.

The show also has made a casting change, dumping the very hairy Mather Zickel as a psychiatrist named Gary and replacing him with the much prettier Ryan Hansen. In both cases, Gary and a half-stripped Rebecca are caught making out on her desk by a bailiff named Tedward (regular cast member Tone Bell). Rebecca’s band mate/gal pal Jenny (Arden Myrin) has been written out.

Bad Judge’s creative revisions represent the combined wisdom of not one, not two, but eight executive producers, including Will Ferrell and Adam McKay (co-architects of the Anchorman movies), Anne Heche and Walsh herself. NBC “suits” probably also weighed in. It’s too many cooks, and the food still needs to be sent back to the kitchen.

Let’s return to the engaging relationship between Rebecca and pint-sized Bobby (Theodore Barnes), an African-American kid who’s a match for her quick mouth. They still have several scenes together in the revised first episode. But then someone had the not at all bright idea to write the kid out after Episode 1 instead of carrying him over to future episodes as Rebecca’s new boarder. “Do you have premium cable?” he asks in the original pilot. She doesn’t. And now that line is missing, too.

The ever-present Chris Parnell still guest-stars as an accused bigamist who shows up in hung-over Kate’s courtroom after she first takes a pregnancy test following another night of heavy drinking and whatever. In Episode 2, a vacuous young pop star named Brianna is the principal defendant. Rebecca is dubbed the “Muffin Top Judge” after she flips twin fingers at the paparazzi swarm. This vexes her no end.

Miguel Sandoval also drops in on occasion as boss judge Hernandez, who frowns upon Rebecca’s behavior but of course is powerless to control it. The self-described “workaholic freak show” isn’t about to let anyone curb her impulses.

This is a comedy that could get better but so far has fallen a few notches from original pilot to revised one to Episode 2, in which Rebecca beds an Adonis-like firefighter with limited brain power. Walsh throws herself into the part but Bad Judge so far is falling apart around her. It’s not terrible, and maybe not even a misdemeanor offense. But it’s still guilty of not being all that good.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net